Pilates rollup tips

In a previous Shoptalk post, Why can’t I do a rollup, we learned that executing a successful Pilates rollup requires more than strong abs.

A rollup starts with an ab curl (rectus abdominis and obliques) to curl our head up over our ribs. Then we add hip flexors (primarily psoas) to lift the trunk over the pelvis. We also need our hip extensors (hamstrings) to keep our legs down as well as our core muscles to help articulate the spine.

In this post we will add a few more details and suggest some simple exercises to get us ready to do our rollup.

1. Start with the spine

To get the best results with an ab prep, start by mobilizing the spine so that it can articulate well. Any mobilization exercises will work. Some examples include supine pelvic tilts, pelvic rotations, thoracic rotation.

Thoracic rotation helps move the mid and upper spine so we can do our ab curl, bending the spine so we come up over our ribs. Most of us are stuck in the thoracic spine so getting some movement there is always helpful. Rotation also activates the obliques which help flex the spine as well as support the shoulder girdle.

Pelvic tilts and rotation move the lower part of the spine and pelvis and also get the hips moving, another place where many people are stuck. We need to be able to move both in our hips and lower spine to get the trunk up over the pelvis and legs.

2. Add some arms

Arm arcs mobilize and strengthen the scapula and shoulders. Another option is figure 8 motions. Rotation of the arm bone in the socket, like in figure 8s, gets at the rotator cuff muscles which help to hold the arm bone in the socket. Stability in the shoulder girdle helps keep the arms out in front of the body, adds support to the shoulder girdle. This stability also helps support the trunk.

3. Strengthen abs

Ab curls are an obvious exercise to help with the beginning of a rollup. Cue to tuck the chin and lengthen the back of the neck to avoid leading with the chin and straining the neck. Then suggest anchoring the back ribs to the mat and curl the head up off the floor.

Adding variations like pulses, twists, and staccato breathing patterns in the ab curl increases the challenge!

4. Turn on the core muscles

Hip folds are a great core exercise because we have to keep the pelvis stable while we move the legs. Hip fold variations also target the obliques (outer unit) as well as the superficial hip flexors which play a part in the next phase of the rollup. Cue to draw the low belly in and wide to add transversus abdominis to the mix (inner unit) to help keep the pelvis stable.

Half rollback is a great way to activate the obliques eccentrically. Working them like a braking system helps to keep from falling back into gravity and is very strengthening.

5. Add deep hip flexors…

A lot of people have trouble getting the trunk up over the hips in a rollup. This is where we need the help of our deep hip flexors, the psoas major. Supine thigh press is a super way to activate psoas. It contracts the psoas isometrically. Another great way to strengthen the psoas is work it eccentrically. Try lying supine and slowly lowering both legs from something like 60° (emphasis on slowly)

6. …plus hip extensors!

There are lots of ways to get at the back of the body. Bridge is one of the most effective. In addition to a neutral bridge, try articulating the spine on the way up, down or both.

Add arm arcs and up the ante even more with a bridge with leg arc. This works the hip extensors on the standing leg for sure, but you can also cue to press down from the back of the gesture leg, as if through mud, to add some resistance and get a bit of action on that side too.

Adding resistance with springs or a theraband will challenge these muscles even more. In fact, adding balance and resistance props in general helps condition all the muscles in the body.

7. Add coordination exercises for the lumbar spine and pelvis

Until now, we have not focused on this aspect directly. What we mean by coordination between the lumbar spine and pelvis is how they move together. This is called lumbopelvic rhythm. Ideally we want a smoothly articulating spine—right into the bottom of the spine, the sacrum, which is inside the pelvic girdle. This includes the spine, pelvis and the joints in between; namely, the SI joints and the hips.

Mobilizing the hips and SI joints enhances this smooth coordinated motion. Hip sways, knee circles, pelvic tilts and rotations are some of the ways to accomplish this. Articulating the spine is also beneficial. If you have access to a springboard or Cadillac, the roll back series is a great way to build lumbopelvic rhythm. On the reformer, try Rolling Back and adding some variations to the basic exercise.


In addition to conditioning abs for a rollup we need to work with our hip flexors, hip extensors, and core. Mobilizing the spine also helps as does adding some exercises for the scapulae and shoulder girdle. Our final ingredient is addressing the timing and coordination between the lumbar spine and pelvis, known as lumbopelvic rhythm. (Watch for a new course on this topic next year!)

Over time working in this way prepares the body to execute a Pilates rollup.

Over to you…

Let us know if this approach, or perhaps a variation, makes a difference for you and your clients.

Jane Aronovitch

Jane Aronovitch

Jane Aronovitch is a Pilates & Movement teacher. She is also a writer and author. Her book, Get on it: BOSU Balance Trainer, is available at Body Harmonics, Amazon and Chapters Indigo.

“I love making ideas clear so teachers can directly apply what they learn in concrete and practical ways – and people can make connections, feel better, move with ease, and have fun.”


Pilates at Home With Free Trial

Pilates At Home Free Trial